In November 2012 the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) was launched, following the collapse of the Women’s Professional Soccer league just months earlier.
Washington Spirit were one of 8 teams chosen to compete in the inaugural season, which kicked off in April 2013. In order to follow the league more closely I decided to choose a team to support and went for Washington Spirit. I can’t really explain that decision, having never been to Washington, players were yet to be announced and at this point no club badge had even been unveiled.
Washington endured a tough first year in the NWSL, almost paralleling Liverpool Ladies first two years in the FAWSL, finishing bottom of the league and at the start of July 2013 they replaced their manager with Mark Parsons – who has also worked with Chelsea Ladies.
The team drew their first game under the new manager before slipping to a losing streak of 7 games, with a couple of close results. Despite this August seen a turnaround in fortunes, after a month working with the first-team Washington recorded their first back-to-back wins of the season and finished with a 1-1 draw to Sky Blue FC.
During the post-season, a number of high quality players arrived to further improve the squad; Crystal Dunn, Lisa Devanna, Christine Nairn and Jodie Taylor to name just a few.
The 2014 Washington Spirit are flying high in the league and pushing for a play-off place, enjoying great support from the vocal ‘Spirit Squadron‘. Last season Washington averaged a gate of over 3,000 per game.
The NWSL streams all it’s games on YouTube, which is both a blessing and a curse in that you get to watch every game in it’s entirety yet have to stay up until the early hours of the morning due to the time difference. It was during one of the games towards the end of the season last year, one that finished at 2am and having to be up for work at 6 that I decided in 2014 I would make the trip to catch a match in-person.
As soon as I had enough money saved up and Liverpool’s fixture list was announced, I booked flights for myself and my sister to New York and then a train onwards to Washington, DC. The game that didn’t clash with any Liverpool fixtures was Chicago Red Stars on Saturday 2nd August.
Again like Liverpool Ladies, Spirit play outside of Washington in a place called Germantown. There they play at a stadium named ‘Maryland Soccerplex‘, alongside either side of the pitch are bleacher style stands while behind one of the goals is a stretch of grass where supporters can sit.
Our seats were on the halfway line, right behind the team benches and just in front of the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream stand! At the Soccerplex there are numerous food stands and a tent/ shop where you can purchase pre-printed shirts, pendants, keyrings and foam fingers all emblazoned with the club badge.
Although the stadium is smaller than Liverpool’s, it was the perfect size for the crowd and generated an easy-going, family atmosphere and the majority of supporters in attendance wore apparel with club logos and colours.
Washington were without Jodie Taylor on the day, the striker had received a long overdue call-up to the England squad for the friendly against Sweden. Even without Taylor amongst their ranks, Spirit boast an impressive starting line-up with Lisa De Vanna up front, Kerstin Garefrekes just behind her, Lori Lindsay and Diana Matheson in midfield and a strong centre-back pairing of Ali Krieger and Niki Cross in front of goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris.
From the opening whistle the Spirit looked confident and pushed forward in numbers, Diana Matheson in particular impressing – at times reminding me of Liverpool’s brilliant Nicole Rolser, with pace, skill and great vision in creating opportunities for her team mates.
Even when going a goal behind early, after Canadian international Melissa Tancredi set up Lori Chalupny to make it 1-0 to Chicago in under 5 minutes, Washington never let their heads drop and had a golden chance to equalise after Matheson almost set up Garefrekes midway through the first half. Battling her way through the Red Stars defence and sending an inch-perfect cross into the box but the header went just over the crossbar.
The pace of the game in the second half seemed to shift up a notch, both teams wanting and needing the 3 points to remain in the hunt for a play-off spot. Minutes after the restart Christine Nairn equalised for Washington, the pass coming from Diana Matheson.
Matheson was then an integral part of the winning goal – minutes after a superb save from the excellent Ashlyn Harris who was playing on despite taking a heavy knock during a set piece – the Canadian midfielder brilliantly kept the ball in play in the frantic final minutes of the game, passing to Lisa De Vanna who found the incoming Yael Averbuch outside the 18-yard box and who’s strike sailed past the Chicago keeper into the top corner.
The result moved Washington Spirit 6 points clear of Chicago Red Stars and puts them in 3rd place, equal on points to Portland Thorns who are on the same number of games and 7 points behind FC Kansas City. Spirit have a game in hand over Kansas and will face league leaders Seattle Reign this Saturday in another crucial clash. The top 4 teams in the NWSL qualify for the play offs.
If anyone wants to watch a fantastic advert for the women’s game, you can watch the match in full here:
I had a truly fantastic time in Washington watching the game and meeting many of the people who work for the club. To finish this blog off I’d just like to add a couple of thank you’s! Firstly thank you to Matt Beard and Mark Parsons for the brilliant tickets, post-match Mark introduced me and my sister to a few of the players and it was incredible to meet Christine Nairn, Diana Matheson, Ali Krieger and Kerstin Garefrekes. Thanks to assistant manager KJ Spisak for giving us a lift back to our hotel and finally thanks to club owner Bill Lynch and a lady who’s name I did not catch for the signed footballs. Myself and my sister really appreciated the welcome we received at the club and I am definitely hoping to make it back for a game next season!